A River [Supposedly] Runs Through It — A Review of “Panaghoy Sa Suba”

The movie is commendable with its novelty by showcasing Bohol and mounting a film done entirely in native Visayan dialect with English subtitles. (If memory serves me right, the only film which was done in 90% Visayan is “Milyonaryong Mini” with Manilyn Reynes and John Estrada) It gave the movie the feel of a foreign film. This attempt to showcase is successful in gaining good reviews although it is also a disadvantage since it somehow “alienated” the Tagalog audience making them “foreigners” evident by box-office turnout. The strength of the film is on the rawness of the performances of all the actors who donned their natural kayumanggi with no make up and armed only with their beings. Credit should be given to Cesar Montano for taking this direction away from enhancement and instead giving emphasis on realism and simplicity by drawing out the best in the actors. Montano was able to create memorable scenes in the film special mention to the boat scene with Iset and Duroy which established the premise and opening of the film, the birthday scene, and the extreme long shot of the funeral cortege in the Loboc River. From a non-thespian, the technical proficiency of ALL the actors was effective and believable. Special recognition to Juliana Palermo who delivered a breakthrough performance and Rebecca Lusterio who captured the genuine essence of the youngest sister of a rural family, deserving of the “and” in the billing credits. Although, I would have to say that Daria Ramirez shined the brightest in the film and should be given the highest recognition possible for playing the role of the depressed mother. Her role was relatively short but was pivotal in the exposition of the characters of Duroy and Bikay. The scene with Daria and Rebecca was overflowing with honesty and sadness that it grabs the audience by the chokehold and forces us to cry with them, especially with the melancholic yet sweet and hopeful score provided by the Loboc Children’s Choir.

The downfall of the movie is the inability to expand and develop such a novel concept. The screenwriter failed to follow through with reference to the sweet and tender premise and opening. The subplot on the Japanese occupation seemed to have overshadowed the [supposed] primary driving force of Duroy—his love for Iset. Another area of weakness is the thin characterization brought by the unclear motives of the primary and secondary characters that affected the accuracy and astuteness of the performance of the actors. There were not enough cues that would make the audience cheer for the characters since their actions are heavily grounded on the existing milieu and situation which is the Japanese occupation. The situations of the characters were not compelling enough to justify some of their actions, particularly the seemingly accepting Iset of the love of Mr. Smith and Fumio which detaches her character from the opening and premise. This stems from the screenwriter’s failure to weave the story for it to achieve coherence. Most importantly, the river seemed to have remained a symbol and a metaphor of Duroy’s journey instead of it being treated as a primary character in the story that could have created the resonance that the movie needed. Technically, Montano still needs improvement as far as choice of shots is concerned. There was a lax, non-purposeful, and over use of the crane shot and reverse shots which distracts the audience from what the scene wishes to convey. Cinematography was also a failure since some of the shots and scenes were not well-lighted which affects the scenes. Most of the time, Duroy is wearing his straw hat and the shadow cast by its brim covers the eyes of Montano of which the audience cannot see his eyes in key scenes. Stock shots used seemed to have been shot digitally which diminished the quality and impact of transitions. The quality of blast effects is also an area that was not well-planned resulting to mediocre and substandard effects that looked like a bad fireworks display.

Given its originality and rawness, the film is generally good. However, “Panaghoy sa Suba” is a classic case of a poorly developed excellent concept that was salvaged by outstanding and unadulterated performances of its actors.

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